Some of the top military men who led us into the Iraq catastrophe three years ago have since left the armed forces. They escaped with their lives and their health, unlike tens of thousands of their fellow US soldiers and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. But they still have their income to think about. Like a growing number of Americans who are working two or more part-time jobs to make ends meet, some of our retired generals are scrambling for whatever work they can pick up.
One enterprising retiree is General Richard B. Myers, who, as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was the nation's top military officer from 2001 to 2005. Earlier this year, he landed a part-time job as professor of military history at Kansas State University. While continuing to live in Virginia, he'll visit the KSU campus three to four times a semester, for three or four days each time. His salary: $100,000 annually. (See all the sorry details here.)
Myers won't just be puttering around in the garden during those ten to eleven months of free time allowed him by his professorship. Last week it was announced that he's joining the board of armament contractor Northrup Grumman. With eight board meetings per year (two of them by conference call), Myers will boost his income by $200,000.
General Tommy Franks commanded US forces during the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, then retired three months after Saddam's statue fell, about the time things started turning ugly. He has since turned to after-dinner speaking as a career, reportedly pulling in as much as $75,000 per appearance.
Franks apparently gives an audience its money's worth. When he spoke to the local chamber of commerce here in Salina, Kansas two years ago, the local paper reported that he "delivered a relaxed, folksy presentation, spiced with plenty of light-hearted and humorous stories." His view on the death toll among US troops, which then stood at around 500, was certainly relaxed: "If it costs 500 [lives], that's OK, or 5000, OK, or 50,000, that's OK with me," he told the audience.
Former General and Joint Chiefs Chairman Colin Powell retired from the military way back in 1993. During his time in the private sector in the 1990s, he cashed in on his role in the first Gulf War, commanding big fees for telling his war stories. Back in government, as Secretary of State during the campaign of deceit that culminated in the 2003 Iraq invasion, he told some of the biggest whoppers of all.
In retirement, Powell has taken his silver tongue on the road. Having gotten some big laughs from a Sarasota, Florida audience recently, he mused that he "could have made a lot more money as a stand-up comedian than as Secretary of State." He mentioned in passing that he'd recently bought a Corvette, which he called "some kind of cool." No doubt he can afford it. One 2005 report put Powell's speaking fee at "$100,000 plus first class expenses for two to include a Lear 60 Jet," but gave no more specifics.
The National Defense University announced last week that it was establishing the Colin L. Powell Chair for National Security Leadership, Character and Ethics. The first occupant of that Chair will be none other than Richard B. Myers, who will still have plenty of time available after taking care of his KSU and Northrup Grumman jobs. The duties he will peform for NDU were not outlined, nor was his salary announced. But I think we can agree that he deserves the post -- that the character and ethics he exhibits are every bit the equal of General Powell's.
Of course, the Pentagon's revolving door is an old story. Last year in his Washington Post blog, William Arkin went down a list of nine other, lesser-known retired generals and admirals who among them have landed 32 corporate board positions or vice presidencies.
Nevertheless, the behavior of Myers, Franks, and Powell has to be viewed alongside the suffering that these men helped bring about and for which they are now being rewarded. They came out of the past three years somewhat more comfortably than did the troops who've done the fighting. More than 2300 of those people are dead and more than 17,000 are officially wounded (and many more unofficially).
Thirty-five percent of returning troops are seeking psychological counseling, and the National Military Family Association estimates that 200,000 antidepressant prescriptions have been written for service members and their families in the past 14 months. The San Diego Tribune reported Sunday that mentally ill soldiers are routinely being medicated and returned to combat, and that doctors are being pressured not to diagnose mental problems.
In such circumstances, it's easy to see how a little humor and a heftier retirement income can help the former generals forget that none of this suffering was necessary. But I'd like to have a chance to ask them what Bob Dylan asked the bosses of America's military-industrial complex 43 years ago in his song "Masters of War":
Let me ask you one question
Is your money that good,
Will it buy you forgiveness,
Do you think that it could?
I'd like to ask, but I can't lay my hands on $75,000 just now.
Stan Cox is a plant breeder and writer in Salina, Kansas.